Tuesday, 28 May 2024 23:20

UN supports response as Cyclone Remal batters communities in Bangladesh, India

UN teams are working alongside authorities and relief partners to assist communities battered by a tropical cyclone that lashed coastal parts of southern Bangladesh and eastern India.

At least 16 people are reported to have been killed as the region was hit by Cyclone Remal on Sunday evening, local time, bringing gales of over 110 kilometres per hour (about 70 miles per hour), torrential rain and storm surges that inundated low-lying areas.

Classified as a “severe” cyclonic storm, Remal is the first one to occur in the Bay of Bengal during the 2024 pre-monsoon season. The region witnesses several cyclones each year, and the frequency and intensity of these storms have been worsening due to climate change.

Response in Bangladesh

At least 150,000 houses have been partially or fully damaged in Bangladesh, and more than 25,000 Rohingya refugees sheltering in camps are at risk of landslides, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office there.

The agency had teams on the ground since the beginning, supporting early warning and prepositioning supplies to enable a swift response in the aftermath of the storm.

“Through our initial response, UNICEF plans to reach people in the coastal region including Rohingya camps and Cox’s Bazar. Critical funding gaps remain across all sectors to meet the immediate needs of girls, women, and persons with disabilities,” Sheldon Yett, head of UNICEF in Bangladesh, said in a statement late on Monday.

With 3.2 million children estimated to be living in the affected areas – and the most vulnerable during disasters – “the priority is to protect lives and well-being,” he added.

“We remain committed to standing by the people of Bangladesh through this challenging time and providing all necessary assistance to help them survive and recover from the aftermath of Cyclone Remal.”

Other UN agencies for their part are also assisting with the response, including prepositioning emergency food, water, dignity-kits and other essential non-food relief items. They also identified potential buildings and communal spaces that could be used as shelters, helped early warning efforts and activated sector-specific teams.

© UNICEF
A mother along with her children, from the village of Panjupara, making their way a cyclone shelter, ahead of Cyclone Remal’s landfall in Bangladesh on 26 May 2024.

A fire, then cyclone

For the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, languishing in southern Bangladesh for over six years after being driven from their homes by brutal violence in Myanmar, the cyclone followed a devastating fire last week.

Early on 24 May, local time, a massive fire broke out in Camp 13, Block B3, in Thainkhali, Cox’s Bazar, destroying or damaging over 400 huts and leaving about 4,000 refugees, including women and children, without shelter.

Trained refugee volunteers, supported by the Bangladesh fire services and UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) teams on the ground, doused the blaze.

IOMBangladesh

Nihan Erdogan, deputy head of IOM operations in Bangladesh, underscored the need to help the refugees.

“[With] fire after fire, with cyclones, monsoons and even heatwaves, it has been way too many times that the Rohingya have been hit by disasters – one after another,” she said.

“I appeal to the international community to help us give hope to the Rohingyas.”

Response in India

In India, the cyclone made landfall in southern West Bengal state, near the border with Bangladesh.

According to the UNICEF office in India, about 23.2 million people have faced the impact, including 7.3 million children.

Storm surges coupled with high tides prolonged the inundation of coastal and low-lying areas, salinizing, or saturating with salt, ground water sources of drinking water.

UNICEF is helping efforts to identify the damaged water sources.

It has put eight mobile water treatment plants on standby for deployment, should the Government request the support.

It is also working with provincial authorities and partners to address child protection, water and sanitation, nutrition, health, and education needs of affected children and families.